Keeweenaw Ski Trip Report!
Last weekend my pal Chris and I drove up to the Keeweenaw for a little skiing. He suggested a trip to Bohemia after he bought a set of newschool BC tele gear. I'd long heard of that place, and the peninsula, and jumped at the chance.
The map showed it straight north of Chicago where Chris lives. Mapquest said only 7 hours. I booked a train to Chi.
Bohemia is a rare all-black, extreme ungroomed resort with an emphasis on trees and powder (http://mtbohemia.com).
Then there's the Keeweenaw. It's a step back from a step back from a step back from life where we live. See, Northern Michigan is remoter and slower than Southern, where we are. The UP is quieter than the Northern LP. And the Keeweenaw is a full step back in time from the UP. It's at least like visiting another country if not another century. I like it. The folks are friendly up there, open and patient. They seem to be on Island Time, which is fine.
Also, they're cooperative. They have a fine food co-op, like the local post office (http://www.keweenaw.coop). But they work together on many other things, it seems. Like their summer and winter resorts and trails. (All local trails and resorts are based/linked here: http://keeweenawtrails.com.) Each one is happy to point you to the others. Ya'll come back now!
And they get a lot of snow and have plenty of skiing. It runs in their blood. But they keep it simple -- localstyle not glamorstyle.
And they really like XC skiing.
I mentioned the trip idea to my other pals and they ooh-ed and ahh-ed and asked me what kind of skis I had. I told them about my favorite old tele stuff -- mid-80's leather Asolo Extremes and late-80's *metal edge* Rossi tele-racers. They said, Yeah, you could do that but tele has come a long way, how about if we set you up. So they loaned me a tasty kit. (Thanks!)
It also turns out that one of the guys who developed and still creates at Bohemia -- Steve Rowe -- has been an OYBer for quite awhile. He wrote in with more helpful info when I first discovered that Bohemia existed. (You can search up that old article and his email.) He volunteered to show us around after we found our sealegs. And when he saw the skis we'd brought up, he offered to upgrade us a couple notches further from his own quiver, to make the steeps even smoother. (Super thanks!)
So this was a totally nutty thing we undertook. We hadn't telemarked (or alpine skied) in decades! So we were relearning how to ski; we were relearning on a new kind of fatter/heavier gear; and we were doing this relearning at an extreme resort. Huh?
It turned out that we relaxed just fine into the mission. We survived! And thrived!
We arrived at 1am and slept in the yurt hostel. A nice place! They have simple yurts and simple cabins to stay in up there. They have chairs, tables and power. That's about it. A spartan cafeteria is probably a fun place for lunch, but we brought our own. There's a dayroom with sink and 2-burner stove. If you go, bring your own camp stove, hot-plate and/or toaster. A sauna would be a dandy feature. But it is a bit of a sausage party up there. We were 2 of maybe 4 folks there over 45 years old. And I'm not sure that any women spent the night.
I did see maybe 10 women skiers on the slopes out of the 100 skiers who were there.
One cheery, lanky tele gal had pigtails, red'n'black hunting coat and torn paisley pants. There ya go! :)
Lots of friendly characters around the place. No problem saying Hi to anyone. Funny stories flow freely.
Chris and I kept up the pace all day, drawn into the challenge of getting the good feel.
On the second run one of my thighs started cramping -- a bad sign, I thought. But it warmed up and relaxed.
The newschool skis and boots seemed to want me to point them down the steepest pitches to get them to come to life. It was amazing. I instantly learned to trust them as I remembered favorite truisms from the old days in the 80's when I bumped hard in Colorado every day for months on end as a ski bum (I groomed XC trails in Breckenridge). ("Moguls are your friends," "Hands low and forward," "Angulate!" "Let the skis do their thing!" "Press forward!" "Chest down the fall-line!" "Weight, unweight!" "Look down the hill!")
Then Steve found us and took us on a late tour of the farther reaches. We'd taken a little break since we hadn't eaten or drunk or paused since we started 4 hours earlier. It was neat hearing him discuss his methods and his secret stashes and how he worked to find little "side doors" into powder that was hidden even amid heavily skied glades. He constantly develops new terrain, keeping portions on the hush-hush. He showed us cliffs that they drop off "no problem because there are nice pillows on various rocks going down." We were scared to even go near the edges to look over. The area is huge and has glades where you need to do long traverses and even some skating to come back out of. I'm happy to do that and used to do it out of Colorado back bowls. Steve showed us where some powder might still be found...and, sure enough, it was there. Sadly, I skied my worst when around Steve. Somehow Chris and I would get balked up trying not to lose sight of Steve. We both remarked that Steve must think us "rock solid Green run" skiers. In the end I got in one supremely tasty powder turn while Chris got two. We were beaming. It's hilarious how little it takes. We understood. I think I could've handled more of that earlier on -- I could taste a bit of rhythm trying to come out -- but we were plenty busy with the open slopes.
Then we collapsed. We drove into Lake Linden for lake trout dinner at Lindell's. It's a 100-yr-old ice cream cafe with walnut booths, stone tables, wooden table jukeboxes, and homemade food. They also used to have a liquor license, which alas was no more. I've passed thru in summer a couple times over the years and always enjoyed a Manhattan with my lake trout and ice cream soda. (http://lindellchocolateshoppe.net)
We had a nice chat with an older local couple at Lindell's. The guy,"Pudge," was wondering how we knew about Heikki Lunta, so he hung around and filled us in. In the 1970's there was a snow drought. A local radio DJ invented a Norse god, Heikki Lunta, and a snow dance/song so that he'd bring snow. The town got Heikki Lunta fever and all did the dance -- the next day they got snow -- WAY TOO MUCH. And it kept coming. Then local drunk lumberjacks mistook the DJ for the Norse god and were after him to punish him for bringing too much snow. Nowadays HL is in winter parades but I think that kids pelt him with snowballs. And you have to be careful when you mention his name. http://www.pasty.com/heikki/heikkilunta.html
Then we had a beer with the snowmobilers at the 100-yr-old Shutes in Calumet, with its lovely leaded-glass canopy over the bar. The Moscow Mule might be worth ordering there (vodka, ginger beer, lime, in a copper mug). I had one once. We had a nice chat with the young bartendress who'd hiked a lot of the Pacific Crest and AT trails and had a friend hiking the NCT *now*. (http://www.mininggazette.com/page/content.detail/id/511187.html?nav=5006)
It was blizzarding out. It was eery driving thru the twisty little downtown of Laurium, a dense, ancient little downtown next to Calumet. 10-foot snowbanks lined the roads. Houses in little hamlets are built on minimal set backs and string out for miles as you drive the one main road back up to Copper Harbor, at the tip, where Bohemia is. Snowmobiles zip past.
The next day the snow was even thinner at Bohemia so we decided to ski a half day at Mt. Ripley. Now that's a lovely, sprawling little resort overlooking the canal, bridges and twin cities of Hancock and Houghton. That place has everything, including glades. And it's owned by MTU! How many schools have their own alpine resort? Steve and his family live in an old-time neighborhood a few blocks away -- he can sometimes ski to and from Ripley, mostly thru forest. (The Keeweenaw might not have any sprawl. We saw two minimall-groceries on the edge of various towns.) (http://www.aux.mtu.edu)
When we were starting out a ski teacher came skiing up in his green smock. A tyke in his yellow smock came snowboarding up behind and fell over in the sunny snow. He laid on his back, stiff in his snowsuit, a cherub with fat red cheeks streaming with snow-melt. The teacher said he was TWO!
We tested different ski combinations and once again had a dandy time working on our skills to the point of exhaustion. At the very end I got in 3 delightful bump runs.
Chris said he was going for "buttery smooth old man big turns" and was using the fresh, light BC gear he came up with -- he declared it perfect for the "blue groomers."
It was amazing to see the kids hitting big aerial jumps, doing inverteds and such. When I last skied that was all illegal. I snowboarded in the mid-80's -- but there were no half-pipes anywhere. It just goes to show that liability is in the eye of the beholder...and the insurance policy. Maybe more exciting XC trails won't be far behind!
Then we visited the Michigan Tech XC "Tech Trails." 100 people of all kinds were bustling around this extensive and high-level XC system located right on the edge of the downtown campus. It was sunny and blue skies. But we'd forgotten our lunch food and there's just a changing room there, so we quickly drove 3 blocks back downtown and grabbed a quick sandwich. When we returned the trails were a ghosttown. And it was overcast. I about cried. It was like skiing by myself back home again. ...Only the trails were heavenly perfect. It really was something.
Steve had mentioned that they're proud of their grooming in this region. The skiers have high standards and the trails compete for quality. There are quite a few full-time groomers employed.
We put in a joyous hour-long ski romp then went and had a tasty dinner in Calumet at the friendly Michigan House, a restored 1800's hotel restaurant with a huge, amazing mural behind the bar.
First, though, we stopped next door at Rick Oikarinen's Cross Country Ski Shop and visited with him and his wife Lorri. We had a great chat. I realized that the new issue of "Silent Sports" magazine was out which had a HUGE article in it of mine! ...So I bought a copy. What fun! Rick said he agreed with its outrageously radical assertions of Singletrack
Once more with collapsing back at our Bohemian cabin. This time the rowdy youngsters next door came over as we were reading in our bunks at 10:30 and said they'd be playing cribbage and having some fun and if they got too loud just let em know. We said thanks but that as old farts we were going to bed right then. We didn't clamp down or anything but they were quiet from then on. What nice rowdy kids! ...And *cribbage*! They had to be Yoopers.
The next morning we had breakfast in the dayroom and said goodbye to the young drinking dudes who were beginning to get up. One savvy pair of guys who'd escaped families for the weekend had set up a fancy kitchen in the big picture window area and were priming for a big day.
As some of the young hostellers mentioned, Bohemia can be intimidating. It was some of their first times, too. In the end Chris and I decided that we should show up with wood skis, leather boots and wool knickers saying "Oh yeah, wood on wood is good. See ya out there, dudes!"
We then skied a couple hours of tasty trail at Swedetown in Calumet, a cherished oldtime trail system, for sure. Only, once again, I skied as if I was back home, on my own, because the day before was their big fundraiser and everyone was taking a break. However, I did get to tag along awhile with a Finn father and very fast school-teacher daughter, which was fun. I coulda blasted around there for hours more.
It was really neat to see the variety of winter modes accomodated and developed at both the XC systems we visited. As we skied along we noticed twisty little singletrack mtbike trails tuck off and into the woods. We saw marked snowshoe trails branch away. There were even narrow one-track backcountry trails crossing the main groomers, heading off who knows where. Plus dog trails. These places were big, densely forested, hilly, wild spiderwebs of winter options.
Don't forget McClain State Park! We've stayed there a few times now. It's a few miles west of Hancock right on the Lake Superior beach. Basically all the campsites on the long, narrow camp-loop are a stone's throw from the water. We once trailered there for 2 weeks while I edited a book and walked the beach picking agates. It's such a sweet-spot that everyone who arrives suddenly is giddy with neighborliness, so it's like a little village of campers who are all in on the secret. Winter cabins, too. (http://www.dnr.state.mi.us/parksandtrails/Details.aspx?id=423&type=SPRK)
We dropped our loaner skis off at Steve's just before the bridge back to The World. Chris invited Steve to visit Chicago anytime. He said thanks but ya know cities just aren't his thing. Hey, when a guy has found his place, there ya go! On a whim, Chris asked Steve if he by any chance had ever heard of folks by the name of Rosemurgy, since he kinda thought they'd settled up there. I knew them, too, back in school days. Steve said, "Well, that's him getting out of the car across the street." So a new adventure began as we dashed over to say Hi. ...THAT's what the Keeweenaw is like.
Then we drove the 9 hours south to Chicago where I caught my train back home. (Stopped in Milwaukee for a scrumptiously hip and friendly dinner at the busy downtown Comet Cafe -- http://www.thecometcafe.com.)
4 major ski outings in 2.5 days. 18 hrs driving. Lots of new things. Whew!
We were tired but we escaped without much injury. Can't ask for more!
After exploring the tasty side of newschool tele I have to say that I'm now piqued to revisited my oldschool lightweight stuff. I want to take Henry over to Bittersweet to show him the downhill ropes for the first time. He's a brawny lad now and would like a little glide thrill. It might help him to see the glide fun of our yard trail a bit better. I'm thinking that I'll set him up with my heavy loaner tele rig -- it'll be like alpine gear to him -- he can learn wedging and more on it easily. I'll don my old stuff and see how it seems, now that I've seen the other side. I'm open to anything, but I have a tiny feeling that lightness and supple snowfeel, which was always my key to fun back in the day, might still be viable now. Wouldn't that be funny.